Standard Commercials are a different beast, but tend to be easier work for the Script Supervisor than a long project. The “script” may be just storyboards (pictures), a page of narration, voice-overs and/or description. There may be several commercial spots, or framing formats for social media and different sized screens.
Some crew crosses over with movies and TV, but some folks work commercials only.
Generally, Royalty is not the Producer or Director, but the Agency – the Ad Agency, representing the Client, dictating by very expensive consensus. The star of the show is not an Actor, but a product. A famous Actor will get some pampering, but the no-names are basically props to support the thingy.
I finished the year working on a commercial for a cleaning product. We had messy floors, smudgy glass panes and lots of laundry. Crew came from throughout North America.
Near the end of the 3rdday, the young Canadian DP (Director of Photography) asked the American AD (Assistant Director) if the next shot was “the window.” The AD looked surprised and explained that we’re done filming the window pane and are setting up for the table top. They looked at one another in confusion. I stepped in with a bit of interesting but useless to me information that had apparently been years lying in wait for this very moment.
To AD, “He means the martini. In Canada they call it the ‘window’ cuz after wrap crew used to collect their wages at the pay window.”
To DP, “In the States the last shot is the ‘martini,’ named for a Director readying his cocktail for when they call wrap.”
Slang reflecting different priorities. Unless after the pay window came the bar stool!
Actors are fascinating. They lie for a living. Or, lets say, pretend. Yet when they etch in a character’s map with the highways, side roads and dead ends we all encounter on life’s journey, the Actor becomes truth-teller, reflecting our own circumstance and emotion, or eliciting our reaction to such.
Script Supervisor supports the Actor by running lines, then as we roll, by (gently) correcting dialogue, or actions for matching when needed. Sometimes we are the messenger for the Director, dashing on to the set with his or her suggestion, and sometimes the Director is the messenger for us!
Before a challenging scene Actors may isolate themselves, do jumping jacks, listen to music. On There Will Be Blood crew was asked to dress in muted, somber, sepia-type colors to help engage the period and stylistic mood for Actors, you believe? Crew may also be asked to work quietly or even clear the set. Whatever it takes to help the Actor concentrate, live in the role, despite a dozen folks aiming cameras and microphones up their face.
I once worked on a low budget Indie that had a cameo appearance with an interesting odd bird who could go from charming to grossly inappropriate, or merrily singing oldies to politically boisterous, in a flash. He created such a deep back story for his character that he often thought out loud, adlibbing lines that had no context or connection within the actual script.
His last scene was in a bar, shot on location in a small Texas town. Camera was about to roll. “Watch this.”
He pulled out a yellow onion, and bit into it, over and over, right through the papery skin, gagging chunks of it down, producing tears and mucus for what seemed to be an almost B-roll shot.
That’s entertainment. And dedication.
I’ve wondered if this is tried and true, an old performing trick, if Shakespeare stood by in the wings of The Globe , slipping a shallot to an otherwise complacent Juliet. Or if Dreyer had his silent screen Joan Of Arc snack on some scallions to squeak out those glorious black and white tears, in close up.
We were cutting a reel for a friend and needed a slug of black between shots. BASIC. I don’t edit every day and forgot some of the shortcuts, not to mention what’s in the hundred drop down menu options and tweaks.
Oh where oh where is a simple slug of black? Help was no help. It could not be found by poking around the program. After scanning through a couple articles and a tutorial it was revealed to be “black video.” What should’ve taken 2 seconds took 20 momentum-breaking minutes!
I grumble, then must remember this is a slight inconvenience. Let’s saunter down memory lane. Cutting a film used to literally be cutting the film – first a work print – like practice – then cutting up the negative (no going back here) to match it – the commitment. Negative cutting, or conforming, is a whole nother specialized process.
Editing was on a flatbed, a big mechanical desk with ‘monitors’ that projected the film frames (like microfishe), with speakers playing the sound from the magnetic audio tape. Motors kept picture and sound tracks in synch as they ran reel to reel, lying flat on platters – think of a DJ with 6 to 8 turntables.
BTW using a fantasy name generator, my DJ names are:
There were maybe 3 buttons, and a lever for playback. Cut and tape with a splicer. Any effects like fades and dissolves were imagined, and notated on the actual film to mark where to add the effects into the negative cut. You didn’t see your Fade Up until the cut negative was processed at the lab!
Twas a rare luxury for Independents to cut the negative, make a final print, then recut the negative again. All time and money, Baby, so editing decisions were perhaps taken more seriously back then than today. And perhaps because of the abundance of digital footage and choices for todays Editors, the wise ones utilize the blessing of the Script Supervisor’s notes more than ever, finding it faster to scan through a few pages of detailed notes than a few hours of shots. Everyday.
But I digress.
There was an awkward technology gap for a while. Flatbeds were phased out as film was lumpily forging its digital path, different from typical video. “Ooo now’s my chance,” thought this Silly Rabbit, and heard of a rumored unit for sale in town.
I contacted Steve – Hoop Dreams – James, who decided he was too sentimentally attached to his Steenbeck, but graciously invited me to HQ to edit my short film on it. He brought me to the flatbed’s dedicated room. It was covered in potted plants! Did I dream this part? We moved the greenery and removed the fitted plastic cover. I began to edit.
And within an hour it froze up. Steve couldn’t figure out why, and to fix it he’d have to wait for the one guy in the country, James Bond, I kid you not, to make his annual repair rounds to the Midwest.
I then moved away to a town which decades ago declared “film is dead.” And did not finish that short. Woe? No! For it caused me to look at writing more seriously, and stretch from experimental short films to feature length screenplays.
And now technology has become accessible, so that we can shoot and edit in the same day, have several projects in the works at once, can store hundreds of hours of footage, play forever with effects, correct many sound and video issues, pull still shots instantly, and let others around the globe view our progress, all with a few keystrokes. On my teeny laptop, sitting on an end table.
There are still final final steps for “prints” like Blu Ray or DCP, but a whole world has opened up literally at the touch of a few buttons.
Use your power for good, technology! And you dear reader? What’s your Dj name?
A hammer can be used to build or to destroy; it’s in the application. Technology is a tool.
The on set kit bag for the Script Supervisor of yore consisted simply of a stopwatch, pencil, perhaps a colored pencil or pen, and a ruler, for notating on a paper script. The notes were quite important, as was being present on set for corrections, suggestions, and touches to flesh out the story, working shoulder to shoulder with Directors, Actors and Crew. Much information was stored in the Script Supervisor’s head, as memory for matching, or formulas to assess if enough film was in the camera for another take. Because every frame of actual film costs money to print, care was put into every shot.
With Polaroid cameras, continuity pictures became part of the toolset as a visual double-check of wardrobe, hair/ make up, and settings. That shifted to digital still cameras and thus added the digital photo printer to our gear (and added the extra time to print pictures out!). Eventually that drifted into the digital cameras being replaced by phones, and continuity pictures often just taken off the monitor.
As film systems became more digitized so did the Script Supervising workflow, using special software and apps with electronic scripts and forms on our laptops and tablets. Now the formats can be more homogenized (ScriptE or Skarrat anyone?), perhaps more convenient for some who want those notes before the word “wrap” is completely uttered. Even though they may not look at them once the notes are loaded into the editing system. And don’t forget the charging cables and back up batteries, and stands and tables for the machines.
This kit bag is getting heavy!
But external pop-off screen grabs are passé, with converters and down loaders the actual camera footage can be streamed to the Script Sup’s electronic device, and direct screen shots taken from there, to be folded into the script notes. So Script Sup doesn’t even have to sit by the monitors. Now we can capture whole takes, free flowing series of takes that go on and on to replay for the Director to decide what he wanted to match to. And all the dailies can be down loaded too. The expectation, or pressure, to use this ability, along with the blurring of DITs obligations to pull up takes, despite Union rules, make the original Video Assist job passé as well.
Wait what’s happening here? More and different work with the technology, making this feel like a chase rather than a craft.
By now there are 2 to 3 cameras minimum filming simultaneously, perhaps a GoPro or 2 tucked in somewhere for a specific “cool” shot. Oh no! What if the boom dipped into frame, or a camera panned off set into a light, or that prop didn’t land quite where we wanted it too! Don’t reset, just fix it in Post.
And while Post is at it, make that 70 year old Actor look young for a flashback, even if she is now deceased. And with digital mapping who really needs the Actor anyway, and the animated films are no longer cartoons but strive to become photorealistic, so that someday there will be no need for a “set” and no need for on set crew any longer. Progress.
During a job interview, the Show Runner asked how being a writer helped in Script Supervising. Well one of the main ways is seeing when a script is too long. He and the other Producer tripped over each other explaining they were still trimming the scripts, wrestling with the author, etc… I wasn’t even specifically referring to their project!
However, it was true of the episodes I’d read there. Not meaning page count, but more specifically when scenes and sections do not move the story forward or provide meaningful support for any of the layers in the script. Many times I’ve thought “This fluff is n-e-v-e-r going to make it into the movie,” and have often been right. With time or budget limits tis wiser to edit on the page then in the cutting room.
Is the script more icing or more cake?
Script writing, to me, compresses a story that’s bigger than it might read on the page, in a unique format so even literary authors must learn a sort of shorthand to keep within the boundaries. Do chapters equal scenes? Well, a little yes, in separating the story into sections, but a bigger no, because the separation is dictated by locations instead of a shift of ideas.
Screenplays are like skeletons that are then carefully and intentionally dressed in layers with clues in the descriptions or dialogue, then fleshed out by Actors rounding out the characters, by how the sets look, or the costumes, how the pieces are edited together, by the use of sound and music, on and on.
They’re written as to what’s to appear on the screen, not by internal beats meandering through a character’s head or their past, at least not in the same indulgent light a novel may. Writing a screenplay can challenge one to find simple, interesting, and perhaps sneaky, ways to color in the bare spots with meaningful information.
But once you understand the limits there’s a lot of freedom within them. Did your Mama ever send you out to play with a “go in the backyard” or “stay on the block “ or “don’t ride your bike in the street” ? Play within the parameters of what will show on the screen, but play!
That’s a conversation opener I’ve encountered more than once.
I can still hear my little ol’ Auntie basically asking the above. Well, at least this shows there’s an awareness of someone on set at the helm of the script! More than likely this comes from movies about movies themselves, like Singin’ In the Rain, 8 1/2 or Get Shorty, to mention a few off the top of my head.
Particularly in older movies, when a film set was shown in the story, the only woman sitting by the Director as part of the filmmaking process was a secretarial gal with a script on her lap (a more professional example than, uh, what was portrayed in the picture above).
My husband jumps in with enthusiasm as to what an important and influential position this is. I then fill in the gaps, that many men also hold this position, and that it entails much much more than following lines in the script.
In general terms I explain how this is about managing several simultaneous streams of information in a highly organized way, sometimes creating systems to do so. Yes we support, and correct, gently, the Actors, with their dialogue and with continuity to help things match. Continuity causes us to guide or coordinate with several departments, as Hair, Make Up, Props, Set Dressing and Wardrobe, to keep everyone on the same timeline page and matching looks. We work to keep the Directors on point, inform them as to the coverage or shots needed to tie the story together so they can choose how to proceed, and we keep track of their preferences while we are shooting.
All this while also keeping track every time each camera rolls, notating information for each take on each camera, watching for technical errors, and essentially transcribing a map for Editorial, in a way being on-set eyes for the Editor with the goal to get all the pieces necessary to put the project together appropriately, elegantly, if possible.
We keep tabs on what’s been filmed and what’s yet owed for each scene in the script, applying mathematical calculations that translate into scheduling our production days for the AD Department. These numbers also go to the Producers to help them gauge the budgeting for those days.
Our shoulders also bear the responsibility to our fellow crew and cast members in legally documenting our production time on the clock, to ensure everyone gets the appropriate pay, meal penalties and overtime contractually agreed upon by the Union.
On top of the pure logistics, a bit of psychology is involved for there are a lot of egos involved. One must adapt and learn how to earn trust so that people will allow you to help them.
…My Auntie stares at me blankly.
“It’s like being a Junior Director to help get everything right.” Bah.
Why does one become a Script Supervisor? The short answer, for some: “It’s just a job, Kid. “ The long answer, for me: As an almost-only child in the 70’s, books, TV and an active imagination were my daily companions. There was an instinctive pull to soak up stories, and in turn create my own through play, drawing, and eventually words. And eventually eventually photography, film and video.
With just a handful of channels to choose from, there was always a desire for more! Sleepovers at my friend’s next door were great for the extra bonus that the Gran watched Television all night long. And from my sleeping bag on the floor of the living room so could I!
Sneakily trying this at home did not go over so well, the sirens from a rerun of Emergency! waking my dad, stumbling into the TV room at 2 am to find wide-eyed little me.
Before VCR’s we had to hope and wait for a movie to play on TV, and were happy to sit through commercials for it. The Wizard of Oz only came around once a year. As I got older it seemed parts of the movie were missing, later realizing the missing scenes and storylines were ones I had made up in my head! But they were so authentic to me.
Hmm what the heck kind of future could this child have? Despite my well meaning parents’ push toward a “safe” trade or degree, Universe took the scenic route to plop me on a commercial film set (better late than never), and eventually at a monitor to observe, take after take, what is, what should be, and with some friendly Script Supervisor suggestions for the Director, what can be the best to bring words on paper to life.
Now as an adult in my downtime I prefer to be in nature, or with friends – away from electronics! Yet still driven and inspired to story – will the sunfowers bloom? Will there be frogs in the pond this year? How can I write a personal struggle into a screenplay best?